Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Out of the Blue - Alison Jay

Summary:  A sea story in pictures.  A boy and his dog, a lighthouse and a beach, a storm at sea and an extraordinary creature left behind by the waves… Alison Jay’s pictures weave a dramatic story for you to tell in your own words. (Summary from book - Image from

My Review:  There are some books with illustrations so captivating, they don’t need words; Out of the Blue is one of those books.  Each page tells an exciting story through whimsical coastal and seascapes that jump start the imagination.  I found this book on our local library’s “for sale” shelf and for the life of me I can’t figure out why it was there.  It's beyond cute!

If you need the basic gist, this is it:  A little boy and his dog live in lighthouse.  One day he and a young girl decide to go beach combing.  They and their fellow beach goers are enjoying their day at the beach until a storm comes up and everyone is forced inside.  The next morning something startling has washed up on shore, and soon the entire beach community shows up to help. 

That’s the short of it, but really this book has so much more going on.  Take the time to look, and you’ll discover that even the background characters and animals have their own amusing stories.  One of my favorite illustrations happens towards the end of the book, where you get a glimpse of what’s going on beneath the sand and waves.  I’m not going to spoil it for you, but it’s simply delightful.  Besides that, here are a few of the other illustrations that I liked: 

I was excited to see my littlest daughter’s reaction to this book and so I handed it to her as we buckled in for the ride home from preschool.  I told her it was a picture book and that I needed her to tell me what was happening and what the people were doing in the story.  It’s about a twenty-minute drive home and she jabbered away the whole time, telling me what each person was up to and giggling here and there.  When we got home, I sat down and ‘read’ it to her.  She was enthralled.  I’d recommend this book to anyone, but especially the younger crowd.  It widens the mind and tickles the imagination.

NOTE: The book does have an end note (with words, of course) that touches on the subjects of coastal biomes, tides, rock pools, and includes interesting facts about some of the creatures featured in the book.  After pages of pictures, it was something that old beginning reader wasn’t too keen on reading until I started in on some of the wacky facts – then she engaged.

My Rating: 5 Stars

For the sensitive reader:  No worries.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Alexander Hamilton: The Outsider - Jean Fritz

Summary:  Jean Fritz, best known for her award-winning biographies of historic American figures, now writes the intriguing story of an influential and fascinating Founding Father and his untimely death in a duel with Aaron Burr with all the excitement of an adventure story.  (Summary from book - Image from

My Review: First off, I should probably disclaim that my first real exposure to Alexander Hamilton came not in my AP US History class (for shame!), but when I was introduced to Hamilton: An American Musical, a brilliant, if somewhat altered, rendering of Alexander Hamilton’s life, set to contemporary music.  I adore it, but still have to turn down the volume sometimes a lot*.  My kids love it too, though their album is remarkably shorter than mine. 

My love for the musical has prompted me to check out the now wildly popular Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow from my local library an embarrassing amount of times.  It goes a little something like this: I take it home and set it hopefully on my end table, glance at it longingly as the weeks go by, until back to the library it goes, still unread.  It’s just.  Long.  One of these days it’s going to happen.  Or so I keep telling myself. 

Thankfully, not long ago my daughter brought home a book that she purchased at the Scholastic book fair -- Alexander Hamilton: The Outsider.**  It’s a well-written, easy to understand, summary of Hamilton’s life, that reads more like a story than a stodgy biography.  Fritz divides the book into four sections (Beginnings, Soldier, Statesman, and Endings), that help guide the reader’s understanding of Hamilton’s humble beginnings as an orphan of illegitimate birth and meager circumstances, the good fortune of his education and his rise through the ranks as a soldier, his pivotal role in the founding of the United States, his often-troubled personal life, and how it all came to an early end. 

The format is very reader friendly, with a few illustrations scattered here and there to help enhance the story and make the book more palatable to the younger reader.  I didn’t really need them to keep my attention, but they were interesting nonetheless.  At 132-pages, it didn’t take me long to finish and I closed the book with a better grasp of the story not told by the musical and an even greater appreciation for the man himself. 

As might be expected, there were some marked differences (and some slightly less noticeable) between the story told on Broadway and real-life history.  I enjoyed uncovering the differences in both incidents and chronology, but found that they weren’t so marked as to take away from my enjoyment of either telling.  Occasionally the author took a little creative license with the story, drawing conclusions with terms like “perhaps”, “he must have”, or indulging rumor with “so the story goes”.   I didn’t really mind the author’s conclusions as they definitely lent to the story, but did feel that it mixed a smidgen of potential fiction in with the established historical facts.  

Overall, I would recommend this book to anyone looking to learn a little more about one of America’s lesser-known Founding Father, without taking a giant chunk out of their day.  It was a great jaunt into history.

My Review: 4 Stars

For the sensitive reader:  All clear.  Even the seedier aspects of Hamilton’s life are written with a G-rated hand.

*For those of you who might decide to listen to Hamilton: An American Musical based solely off my recommendation, it should be noted that I purchased the ‘clean’ version (available on iTunes) which has a few less swear words than the original version.  Even 'clean,' it still contains profanity of the A, Ba, D, H, JC, and OMG variety and two or three crude suggestions.  I usually just turn down the volume when these come around, but there is at least one song that I leave off my playlist entirely (Say No to This).  You can infer what happens without listening to it.  Basically, Hamilton makes some poor life choices.

**Yes, I’ve finally gotten to the part where I review the book I’m supposed to review.  Gosh, you guys are so impatient.   

Friday, January 26, 2018

Confessions of a Domestic Failure - Bunmi Laditan

Summary:  There are good moms and bad moms -- and then there are hot-mess moms.  Introducing Ashley Keller, a career girl turned stay-at-home mom who's trying to navigate the world of Pinterest-perfect, Facebook-fantastic, and Instagram-impressive mommies but failing miserably.

When Ashley gets the opportunity to participate in the Motherhood Better boot camp run by the mommy-blog-empire maven she idolizes, she jumps at the chance to become the perfect mom she's always wanted to be.  But will she fly high or flop?

With her razor-sharp wit and knack for finding the funny in everything, Bunmi Laditan creates a character as flawed and lovable as Bridget Jones or Becky Bloomwood while hilariously lambasting the societal pressures placed upon every new mother.  At its heart, Ashley's story reminds moms that there's no way to be perfect, but many ways to be great.  (Summary from back of book - Image from

And for good measure:  Here is a little of what's pinned to the top of her Facebook page.

If you can wash and dry laundry but know that putting it away is for losers, this book is for you.

If being around small children 24/7 has left you with the social skills of a serial killer, this book is for you.
If your car contains all four food groups, diapers in four sizes, enough rations to survive the apocalypse, Target bags you're waiting to smuggle into your home once your husband is distracted (I know you needed those tank tops/candles/ankle booties, trust me), $80 in small change, a blended family of possums, and 6lbs of Goldfish crumbs, this book is for you....
If you wear leggings so you don't have to face what size you are in regular pants now, this book is for you....
If your living room looks like a crack den sponsored by Toys R Us and Leap Frog, this book is for you.
If you Febreeze your entry way, pour bleach down the kitchen sink, and rearrange the dirty dishes 10 minutes before the love of your life gets home to make it smell like you accomplished things that day, this book is for you....
If you pin designer kid clothes but your children live in $4 Walmart shirts, this book is for you.
If you can't get your act together to save your life and motherhood has ruined your mind, body, sex life, and hair, your uniform is pajamas, and you live for bedtime but you'd run through white hot fire for your kids, this book is for you.

My Review:  I stumbled upon Bunmi Laditan's particular brand of hilarity and snark when it came across my news feed on Facebook back in 2016.  She'd written a tongue-in-cheek post about her kid's chicken nuggets and darn if I didn't fall just a little bit in love with her soul right then.  Without saying so out right, she implied that maybe the "standards" society has set for moms are a bit ridiculous.  Perhaps, you don't have to be perfect Holly Homemaker to be a good mom!  You can read it here, if you'd like.  It was just what I needed to hear and I've been following her ever since.  You can imagine my delight when I found out she'd written a book.

Confessions of a Domestic Failure is not the non-fiction novel I had hoped for, but is rather a fiction novel written in Bunmi Laditan's characteristic style - a combination of self-deprecating wit and her deliciously unfiltered perspective.  Although it's main character is a young mom named Ashley, who can't seem to get the hang of motherhood, I couldn't help but assume that it was at least in some ways autobiographical, with the author putting a little of herself and her own experiences into the character.  Whatever the source, this book was clearly written for me and every other well-meaning, exhausted, hot-mess of a mom who ever found herself questioning her sanity or her ability to parent even so much as a houseplant.  We've all had those days.  I love my children more than life itself, but the daily rigmarole of motherhood has been known to leave me figuratively curled up in a dusty corner of my brain, counting down the seconds till everyone in the house is finally asleep.  I hadn't made it two pages in before I was snorting in sisterly solidarity, reading excerpts aloud, and admiring her decidedly unique turn of phrase.  I was identifying all over the place.

Ashley's character does come off as a bit naive about the ways of the world and occasionally her hi-jinks sauntered in to the unbelievable, but the biggest problem I had was that her fictional problems started to stress me out.  I kid you not, if there is a PTSD for parenting little ones, this book should come with a trigger warning.  Though I've been out for a while, Ashley's experiences hurtled me back to the days of diaper explosions, projectile vomiting, acute loneliness, and the sleepless nights of days long past.  I still loved the author's comedic writing style, but I was actually kind of glad when Ashley's experience shifted into more foreign territory so that I identified a little less.

My overall takeaways:
1)  You don't HAVE to hand stitch all your kids cloth diapers out of home grown organic hemp, ethically sourced unicorn hair, and the discarded down of an free-range swan.  Your kids will survive  without them.  I promiseThis same rule applies to a lot of other things, so apply it liberally.
2) Social media presents an idealized reality.  No one has got it as together as it seems.  No one.  So stop comparing your actual reality to someone else's carefully crafted fantasy.

In case you're in a fragile emotional state and wondering, Ashley's story ends well, if not entirely as expected.  I'll leave it at that.  I probably won't read this book again, but I would recommend it as a good one time read to those who are looking to lighten up a bit, have a good laugh, and stop comparing themselves to other moms. 

My Rating: 3.5 Stars

For the sensitive reader:  Might contain triggers for stressed out moms.   Also might make you snort milk out your nose.  It's a risk you'll have to take.  I can't remember any instances of language but I've got mom-brain.  So proceed with caution.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Young Jane Young - Gabrielle Zevin

Summary: Young Jane Young's heroine is Aviva Grossman, an ambitious Congressional intern in Florida who makes the life-changing mistake of having an affair with her boss‑‑who is beloved, admired, successful, and very married‑‑and blogging about it. When the affair comes to light, the Congressman doesn’t take the fall, but Aviva does, and her life is over before it hardly begins. She becomes a late‑night talk show punchline; she is slut‑shamed, labeled as fat and ugly, and considered a blight on politics in general.

How does one go on after this? In Aviva’s case, she sees no way out but to change her name and move to a remote town in Maine. She tries to start over as a wedding planner, to be smarter about her life, and to raise her daughter to be strong and confident. But when, at the urging of others, she decides to run for public office herself, that long‑ago mistake trails her via the Internet like a scarlet A. For in our age, Google guarantees that the past is never, ever, truly past, that everything you’ve done will live on for everyone to know about for all eternity. And it’s only a matter of time until Aviva/Jane’s daughter, Ruby, finds out who her mother was, and is, and must decide whether she can still respect her. (Summary and pic from

My Review: I picked this book up for a few reasons. First of all, I loved The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry and you can read my review of that here. I really enjoyed it. Also, Young Jane Young was on “The Best Books of 2017” by Kirkus Reviews. Some awards I agree with, some I don’t, but I at least like to have read as many of the books from the different prize winning lists as I can. I wouldn’t want to miss my next favorite, right?!

I love Zevin’s characters. I really loved the characters in A.J. Fikry and I really loved the characters in this book as well. I think they’re funny, relatable, and very real. Fiascos happen but she doesn’t necessarily save them from themselves (or each other) which is nice. That’s how reality is, you know? So many times humans make stupid mistakes and they’re forced to deal with those mistakes. It isn’t always pretty, but it is what it is. I think that Zevin has a firm understanding of this, especially in this book which is based around one epic mistake.

One of the reasons I enjoyed this book was that I understood the background of the story. I worked for a senator when I was in college. Unlike Jane Young, I basically saw the senator once at a dinner and that was pretty much it. I don’t think I actually even spoke to him in person. He lived in D.C. and so he wasn’t even in the same part of the country for most of my internship. There is a certain amount of adrenaline that goes with such a job, however, and I certainly encountered my fair share of people who were willing to do whatever it took to make this experience all that they could. I didn’t intern long enough to experience any personal betrayals, but I did see people clawing their way to wherever they wanted to go. Maybe it’s the type of person who interns for a politician? I dunno. But I enjoyed reading this book because it was somewhat nostalgic in that way.

I loved how the book was divided up into different characters’ stories. I didn’t enjoy each character telling equally, but I still really enjoyed being a part of their lives. I very much appreciate the approachable and accessible manner in which Zevin writes. It makes it so easy to read. Her stories are compulsively readable, the writing is flawless in the way that it just facilitates the mood and the story, and I felt like I was reading a guilty pleasure because I read it so quickly and so attentively.

Although there is obviously a huge political agenda in this, I found myself completely agreeing with it (which doesn’t usually happen, by the way). Why do women have to pay for sexual mistakes in a way that no man should? How come Jane Young had to take the fall for an older predator politician? This book goes right along with all of the sexual misconduct reckoning that’s going on today, and it does it in a way that tells a story that doesn’t make the intern completely innocent, but makes it completely obvious that she shouldn’t have had to pay the way she did for a mistake that was made by both parties.

I loved the feisty women in this book—ones from each generation and ones who dealt with different things in their own way. I wouldn’t say men were favored highly in this book, but it was a really engaging, fast read that I enjoyed a lot.

My Rating: 4 Stars

For the sensitive reader: There is language and quite a bit of discussion of sex, as you might imagine from reading the summary. 

Monday, January 22, 2018

And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer (A Novella) - Fredrik Backman

Summary:  Grandpa and Noah are sitting on a bench in a square that keeps getting smaller every day. The square is strange but also familiar, full of the sweet scent of the hyacinths that grandma loved to grow in her garden.  As they wait together, they tell jokes and discuss their shared love of mathematics. Grandpa recalls what it was like to fall in love with his wife. She's as real to him now as the first day he met her, but he dreads the day when he won't remember her.    This peculiar space that is growing dimmer and more confusing all the time is where they will learn to say good-bye, the scent of hyacinths in the air, nothing to hear.  Fredrik Backman has rendered an exquisitely moving portrait of an elderly man's struggle to hold onto his most precious memories and his family's efforts to care for him even as they must find a way to let go.  This little book with a big message is sure to be treasured for generations to come.  (Summary from book flap)

My Review:  I'd like to start my review with an excerpt from the author's letter to the reader, that I think makes this novella a little easier to understand:

"This is a story about memories and about letting go.  It's a love letter and a slow farewell between a man and his grandson, and between a dad and his boy. 

I never meant for you to read it, to be quite honest.  I wrote it just because I was trying to sort out my own thoughts...but it turned into a small tale of how I'm slowly losing the greatest minds I know, about missing someone who is still there..."

This novella is a 76-page story about the passage of time, fighting the loss of memories, and caring for someone who is slowly losing track of the world and their place in it.  It's primarily composed of conversations between an elderly man (Grandpa) and his wife, son (Ted), and grandson (Noah).  The conversations didn't always transition in an obvious way or take place chronologically or even in the real world, so I would occasionally lose my bearings while reading.  The resulting disorientation and frustration felt intentional -- a narrative technique on the part of the author, that helped me to identifywith the characters and their emotions.  However, the more I read the more the story started to fall into place, the characters came into focus, and moments made sense.  At the end I was left with a bittersweet sense of loss -- like a life well lived, but only half remembered.

Honestly, I don't know if I recommend this book or not.  It definitely elicited all sorts of feels, but it might be kind of a hard read for someone who has ever cared for a loved one with Alzheimer's or Dementia.  It also might be cathartic.  Whatever it is -- it's 76 pages of food for thought:  What do you want to hold on to?

My Rating: 3.5 Stars

For the sensitive reader: Might be a trigger for those who have cared for a loved one with progressive or chronic memory loss.

Friday, January 19, 2018

The Marrow Thieves - Cherie Dimaline

Summary: In a futuristic world ravaged by global warming, people have lost the ability to dream, and the dreamlessness has led to widespread madness. The only people still able to dream are North America's Indigenous people, and it is their marrow that holds the cure for the rest of the world. But getting the marrow, and dreams, means death for the unwilling donors. Driven to flight, a fifteen-year-old and his companions struggle for survival, attempt to reunite with loved ones and take refuge from the "recruiters" who seek them out to bring them to the marrow-stealing "factories." (Summary and pic from

My Review:This book is the 2017 winner of the Kirkus Prize for fiction teen books so I had to read it and see what all the hype is about. I would say that overall I liked it—it’s certainly got that dystopian element that is so popular in teen fic these days. I have read quite a few dystopian novels over the past few years (as I’m sure you have) and I can’t help but wonder if teens are really binging on this as much as the adults are? Do they ever get paranoid or scared by it as we adults do, or do they just let it be a simple distraction and fun for their life? You know, as much as dystopia is fun. Which mostly it is not. Interesting, sure. Inventive? Hopefully. Uplifting? Doubtful.

So I have to start by saying that like many books in the dystopian genre, the details of this one are confusing. I get the basic premise—the world has been destroyed by global warming and people have stopped being able to dream (whether this is sleep dreaming or going-for-your-dreams type-dreaming is unclear) but they have found that Native populations have the key to being able to dream in their DNA, so they extract it from their bone marrow. This results in all sorts of hunting down people and capturing and torture and such, as you might image. And that’s the crux of the book, actually, which I will get into later. The actual taking of bone marrow or how it works and why it works and why it is just native populations (and what is native, really, in this dystopian world? I mean, there are people native to each area in the world, and everybody is native to somewhere, but is it just native meaning people who are not white? Because the term “native” seems to vary broadly in that there are native populations from Canada, America, and even some of the islands. Was it just the American continent? What about the indigenous people in other areas? This was also confusing). Also, the indigenous people who are the main characters are able to find what they think might be a solution to all of this madness, but I’m not sure why the solution was what it was which is too bad because it could have been really cool. I’m being intentionally vague about all of this because I don’t want to ruin the book, but also because it was genuinely confusing. I wanted it to make sense. I really did. However, I think Dimaline had created a dystopian world so rich in her mind that she didn’t understand what the rest of us didn’t understand. The world was so real to her and so obvious that the few crumbs that she thought were all we needed were not enough to actually make it very cohesive.

The fact about all of this is, though, that many dystopian books are this way. The how and why and the details of All the Badness are often vague so that the book can focus on the characters, so this is pretty standard fare for dystopian books.

What this book did have going for it was the actual dripping from the page dread, fear, and confusion that the characters were feeling. Dimaline did an excellent job of creating characters who were relatable and easy to understand. The story itself had a hopeless quality that I’m assuming would be very real and prevailing in an actual dystopian world. I really enjoyed the indigenous cultural infusions that Dimaline used, and my own regret is that there weren’t more of them. I LOVE culture and I love how it plays into people’s lives. Culture was a huge part of this novel because of the nature of the characters being hunted for their indigenous bone marrow. There was a very interesting juxtaposition of elders who had traditional culture and language and stories (which was super fascinating) and then the modern young teen characters who were trying to live in a world where they hadn’t had much exposure to their traditional culture and yet it now meant everything—the key to saving themselves both physically and emotionally as well. I really Really REALLY wish there had been more exploration into the indigenous cultures in this book. I think it would have made it so much richer, and also filled out the story more. It really was confusing in so many ways. That being said, I understand that YA fic can only be so long with only so much depth or it ceases to capture its audience. In Marrow Thieves there is just enough culture and depth to really make the story and leave the reader wanting a lot more.

Because I felt like there was much confusion surrounding the actual premise of the book—the marrow and how it is connected to dreams—and because I wanted a lot more culture discussion in this book to flesh it out, I’m giving this book 3.5 stars. I so wanted to be immersed in this culture and in the end I felt like there was so much of that lacking. That being said, if you are into dystopian fiction, you should definitely check it out.

My Rating: 3.5 Stars

For the sensitive reader: There is some language and some minor descriptions of minor teen sexual play (no sex). I would say it is on par with others in its genre, maybe even on the lighter side.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Finding Beauty in the Beast - Jessilyn Stewart Peaslee

Summary: Princess Rose's fiery temper has kept every potential suitor away...until now. After being spurned and humiliated for the last time, the princes forces every eligible man to present a gift to her under pain of death. The man who brings her the best gift will be chosen as her husband.

When Corbin presents his gift, he hopes that his simple offering will keep him safely overlooked. All he wants is to return to his quiet life as a blacksmith away from forbidding castles and beastly princesses. But love works in mysterious ways, and it all starts with a rose...
 (Summary and image from I was provided a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.)

Review: I don't know anyone who didn't love Disney's Beauty and the Beast growing up. The story is so wonderful and timeless, the music is awesome, the heroine is strong and resilient, there's just a touch of angst ... it's just wonderful. Definitely one of my favorite Disney Classics. But, what if the Beauty and the Beast were one and the same?

Jeassilyn Peaslee is taking us back to the world she's created in Ella in order to follow Corbin the blacksmith and his journey. Upon realizing that his intended is more in love with the idea of marrying a prince than with him, he flees to a new town to create a new life for himself. With all the hubbub of the move and the realization that he's moved into the kingdom of "the Beast" (who Ella), he is abruptly informed that he has a few minutes to choose a gift for the Princess, as she has decided she'll marry a commoner to snub the Prince who cut off their engagement for one.

The story is fairly predictable. The Princess is horrible to everyone and everything, she takes little to no interest in the state of her kingdom, she refuses to get to know Corbin, because she's never been taught to grow or move forward from a childhood tragedy. Corbin is sullen, withdrawn, and grumpy as he tries to find a new identity as husband to the Princess and the future King. There are a few other side stories, but nothing earth-shatteringly out of left field. 

Despite the predictability of the story, I really loved this book. It was so sweet. The characters were real to me -- they had flaws and failures, they grew and they had purpose. The story, while definitely light reading, was exactly what my brain needed during the stress of starting a new and scary job. Additionally, the lighter fare of the storyline allowed me to develop a better connection with the characters, because I wasn't so consumed with trying to figure out a convoluted storyline. 

I really enjoy this series, and hope this isn't the last one in it. I want to visit these characters again. I want to see their growth, get to know their children, and see how they stay connected.  Again, if you're looking for a good series to direct a teenage girl to, this is a good one. These are the qualities I'd like my daughter to grow into.

Rating:  Four stars

Monday, January 15, 2018

Ready Player One - Ernest Cline

Summary: In the year 2044, reality is an ugly place.  The only time teenage Wade Watt really feels alive is when he's jacked into the virtual utopia known as the OASIS.  Wade's devoted his life to studying the puzzles hidden within this world's digital confines -- puzzles that are based on their creator's obsession with the pop culture icons of decades past and that promise massive power and fortune to whoever can unlock them.  But when Wade stumbles upon the first clue, he finds himself beset by players willing to kill to take this ultimate prize.  The race is on, and if Wade's going to survive, he'll have to win -- and confront the real world he's always been so desperate to escape.  (Summary from back of book - Image from

My Review:  I went into this book with sky high hopes.  One of my friends, a fellow bibliophile, recommended it alongside A Man Called Ove (which I gushed over here) as her top books of 2017.  She's an avid reader, and former bookseller, and so her glowing recommendation usually means I'm likely to strike literary gold.  Having unreasonably high expectations can often lead to disappointment, and, unfortunately, that is what happened to me.

Ready Player One is imaginative, complex, and likely to dazzle a lot of people at the box office when the movie comes out in March 2018.   The entire concept of the book intrigued me and I appreciated that it delved into a variety of contemporary themes and sub-themes (e.g. our society's increasing dependence on technology, the idealized nature of the online world, the evils of greed, addiction, and corrupt corporations, and so on). One of my favorite quotes spoke to the depressing reality of Wade's Wall-E-like existence:

...over the past few months, I'd come to see my rig for what it was: an elaborate contraption for deceiving my senses, to allow me to live in a world that didn't exist.  Each component of my rig was a bar in the cell where I had willingly imprisoned myself.  Standing there under the bleak fluorescents of my tiny one-room apartment, there was no escaping the truth.  In real life, I was nothing but an anti-social hermit.  A recluse.  A pale-skinned, pop culture-obsessed geek. An agoraphobic shut-in, with no real friends, family, or genuine human contact.  I was just another sad, lost, lonely soul wasting his life on a glorified video game.

I liked the buttons the author was trying to push with his work, but I just didn't feel invested in the story. Part of the problem was that even though I enjoyed the basic plot, a lot of the subject matter was outside my wheelhouse. I am a geek at heart, but not really a gamer geek.  I caught the references to iconic movies like Monty Python or Ferris Bueller's Day Off, and the nods to TV shows like Star Wars, Doctor Who, and Firefly, but when it comes to gaming, well, I have never so much as played Minecraft.  We didn't have video games growing up, and I couldn't even pass the original Mario at my neighbor's house.  I'm that bad.  First-person shooters make me motion sick and the closest I've ever been to RPG's is the day I sent my boyfriend off to sword fight in the quad (not a proud moment, I assure you).  I only caught about 10% of the steady stream of pop culture references hurled my way, leaving the other 90% to sail right over my head.  Oh, I still knew what was going on in the book, but I believe that the story would have been enhanced if I had caught a bit more.

The best way I can explain the whole experience was that it was like watching my college boyfriend (yes, the same one) play a really amazing video game -- cool up to a point, but not something I want to do for hours on end.  It took me an inordinately long time to feel that wrenching gut-hook that yanked me into the story, which came roughly 360 pages into a 579 page book.  It wasn't until Wade ran into some truly harsh realities outside the virtual world that I started to feel that hoped for pull, but once I did, I finished it in a flat second and can see why it's being made into a movie.  While I wouldn't recommend this book to everyone, I'd be far more likely to recommend it to someone with an extensive gaming/RPG background, as I think they'd probably enjoy it more than myself.

My Rating: 3.5 Stars

For the sensitive reader: Plenty of swearing, some anti-Christian themes, some frank discussion of sexual matters.

Friday, January 12, 2018

GOODREADS Best Books of 2017

I know we haven't really had a DTR, but we're not exclusive.  
We hope you enjoy our book blog and tons of others. 
If you haven't had a chance to visit Goodreads, you really should.  

We recommend starting with the Best Books of 2017  

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Strong is the New Pretty: A Celebration of Girls Being Themselves - Kate T. Parker

Summary: Real beauty isn't about being a certain size, acting a certain way, wearing the right clothes, or having your hair done (or even brushed).  real beauty is about being your authentic self, and owning it.  Kate T. Parker is a professional photographer who finds the real beauty in her subjects, girls age 5 to 18, capturing it for all the world to see in candid and arresting images.

Here are girls who are fierce, funny, adventurous, assertive, loud, creative.  Athletic girls and artsy girls.  Fighters.  Survivors.  Girls at the barre, wrapping up their calloused feet in pointe shoes, girls in their football jerseys, wearing eye black like war paint.  Girls, defiant and proud, showing off their scares, their messy hair, their dirty feet.  Girls curled up on the couch, dashing through the sprinkler, raising their hands, reclaiming their independence in the face of adversity, playing music together, dissolving in fits of laughter, leaping in unison against the sunset.

A catalog of spirit in words and smiles, these photographs inspire--and serve as affirmation of the fact that it's what inside you that counts.  Strong is the New Pretty conveys a powerful message for every girl, for every mother and father of a girl, for every coach or mentor, for everyone in the village that it takes to raise a strong and self-confident person. (Summary from book flap - Image from

My Review:  I found this book on my local library's "Lucky Day" shelf (meaning you can skip the wait list) and it's a good thing too, because as the mother of four girls, with that title, and the above synopsis, there was no way I was walking out of the library without it.  I took it home and spent a rare quiet moment flipping through the stunning photographs, inspiring forewords, and uplifting quotes.  Strong is the New Pretty was everything I hoped it would be and more -- an undeniably beautiful, well-deserved punch in the face to an industry (heck, to a world) that often tries to teach girls that their worth is defined by their cup/pant/lip/butt size or dictate the things they can and can't do.  The book is quite easy to read and is primarily composed of photographs with quotes from the subject of the photo.  On each page, girls of all ages, sizes, backgrounds, and ethnicities show us what strong means in spectacular fashion (see a few below).    Some images are thought provoking, some defiant, others silly, but the takeaway is undeniable -- Be your joyful, compassionate, wild and crazy, confident, rough and tumble, strong, determined, creative, courageous, uncontainably authentic self.  Strong is beautiful.

The most telling thing about this book is what happened when I finished reading it.  Feeling rather empowered, and hoping my daughters would take an interest, I set it on the coffee table and walked away.  There it sat in plain sight.  Sure enough, several times in the last week, I have walked into the room and found a different daughter nose-deep in it.  Even my preschooler was entranced.  I haven't decided yet whether I want to have a conversation with them about it, or whether I want to let them absorb the message how they will and form their own takeaways.  For now I'm just letting them marinate in it; the book really does speak for itself.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who is a girl. Or has one.  Or knows one.

My Rating: 5 Stars

For the sensitive reader:  You're fine.  Unless you're sexist.  Then you realllly should read it.

Photo credit to Gabby DeSantiago, North Denver Tribune.

Monday, January 8, 2018

It All Comes Down to This - Karen English

Summary: It’s 1965, Los Angeles. All twelve-year-old Sophie wants to do is write her book, star in the community play, and hang out with her friend Jennifer. But she’s the new black kid in a nearly all-white neighborhood; her beloved sister, Lily, is going away to college soon; and her parents’ marriage is rocky. There’s also her family’s new, disapproving housekeeper to deal with. When riots erupt in nearby Watts and a friend is unfairly arrested, Sophie learns that life—and her own place in it—is even more complicated than she’d once thought. (Summary from goodreads, pic from amazon)

My Review: One of the things I love about reading is that it transports you to other times, other places, other worlds, other lives. This seems obvious, right? Then why don’t more people read?! It blows my mind when someone is like, “Oh, I don’t know how you have time to read! I’m just SO BUSY with my life that I can’t bother to crack a book!” Meanwhile, I’m getting my judgy eyes and thinking about all the time I see them hanging out on Facebook or commenting on their stupid TV shows they watch or whatever. Now, don’t get me wrong. I also hang out on Facebook/Instagram/whatever and when I’m done I’m often like “Please give me back that time I wasted!” And I also have shows I enjoy watching with my husband at night. But I consciously try to make time each day to read. I don’t always get to read, and most of the time I don’t get to read as much as I’d like to, but I am a firm believer that reading is the way to experience things, experience places, and learn things that cannot be learned any other way. Those who don’t read are missing out on SO MUCH! But I don’t need to preach to you, dear readers of this blog, do I? Because obviously you’re readers or you wouldn’t be here. So we can just all get our judgy eyes on together and selfishly read all the books that we can with the little time that we’ve got.

One of the reasons I love historical fiction is that it takes you to a place you’ll never get to go to. Even if history repeats itself (and by jove, let’s all hope that it doesn’t in so many incidences) it will never be like it was at that time with those people. It just can’t be. We ourselves are living in a unique time and place. But that discussion is deeper than I’d like to go in this little book review. It All Comes Down to This is such a book that transported me to a time and place that I will never experience. For one thing, 1965 will never happen again (obviously). For another, I’m not African-American and don’t have the experience of that either. I think my favorite quote in the book, and one that summed it up quite nicely is this, “Jennifer once asked me what it felt like—to be Negro. I said I couldn’t really explain it. Just that you remembered what you were all the time. All the time. From the time you got up in the morning until you went to bed at night. But you really remembered it when you were the only Negro around.”

I’ve read other books about African-Americans during this time period (and others as well), but this book is different in that the main character, Sophie, comes from an upper middle-class family in a slowly integrating white neighborhood. This made all the difference. For one thing, Sophie does experience racism in a lot of ways—her peers treat her as beneath them even though her parents are well-educated and she has the same privileges as they do (such as music lessons, live-in help, etc). Also, Sophie is experiencing normal coming-of-age things like changing friendships, siblings leaving, the reality of parents and their flaws, etc., but she does it all in a backdrop where she is often alone because of her race. Most interestingly, though, is that during the famous race riots in LA during this time, she is as removed from them as other people in her neighborhood, and yet they treat her as if she knew what was going on because she is also African-American. I found this fascinating, actually, and I loved reading what she thought and how she was as confused as they were, yet had some realizations through her sister and a friend.

I didn’t find Sophie as relatable as some other coming-of-age female characters I’ve read. She had some self-proclaimed quirky things about her, but I didn’t really find them to be all that quirky or even exceptional. She seemed pretty normal to me, which would have been fine, except that English had obviously tried to make her seem to be an outsider not only because of her race but also because of her personality, which she wasn’t really. The beginning of the book was slow-going as far as getting to know her personality as well. It just wasn’t that captivating. As it went on, it got better and once the excitement started there was a lot to learn, but much of the book was just normal life for any tween kid that age at any time.

I enjoyed this book for its candid look at the difficulties of living during this time, especially for a girl in these circumstances. I feel like I learned quite a few things that I didn’t know before.

My Review: 3.5 Stars

For the sensitive reader: There are a few incidents of language by the adults, some discussion of puberty, and a subplot of an affair but this book is clean.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Holding - Graham Norton

Summary: Graham Norton's masterful debut is an intelligently crafted story of love, secrets and loss.

The remote Irish village of Duneen has known little drama; and yet its inhabitants are troubled. Sergeant PJ Collins hasn't always been this overweight; mother of­ two Brid Riordan hasn't always been an alcoholic; and elegant Evelyn Ross hasn't always felt that her life was a total waste.

So when human remains are discovered on an old farm, suspected to be that of Tommy Burke - a former­ love of both Brid and Evelyn - the village's dark past begins to unravel. As the frustrated PJ struggles to solve a genuine case for the first time in his life, he unearths a community's worth of anger and resentments, secrets and regret.

Darkly comic, touching and at times profoundly sad. Graham Norton employs his acerbic wit to breathe life into a host of loveable characters, and explore - with searing honesty - the complexities and contradictions that make us human. Summary and image from

Review: I know, I know. You’re probably thinking the same thing I did: hold up! Graham Norton wrote a book!? It’s got to be wildly hilarious, dry, and utterly British, right!?. At least, that’s what I was thinking. I was convinced I was going to be in for a surprise with this book. I was, just not the one I was expecting.

I heard Norton talking about his book and describing it as a sleepy town with a quiet mystery, and I was intrigued. I don’t know what I was expecting, but I did expected it to be well done, hilarious (because hello, Graham Norton), and a quick read. It was a quick read, but I was surprised to find very little humor in the book. The town definitely is sleepy, the mystery was quaint, but hardly a mystery at all, and the characters themselves were overall relatively unredeemable.

Let’s break this down. Characters first — these guys weren’t my favorites. They seemed oversimplified. I mean, this is the author’s first book, so I was trying to cut him some slack, but still. I’d have liked a little bit of originality breathed into them. It was like he decided which tropes a small town would have, gave them names, and then decided that that was enough development. 

Okay, let’s move onto the storyline. To be honest, I felt like there was no originality in this storyline at all. I’ve read this “mystery” in a million other forms, and most of them better than this one. There’s “mistaken identity” and a “buried secret” and it doesn’t take more than a minute for a mom-addled brain to put together what was going to happen, or what had happened. Being able to read the signs so early on, it just cast the whole book into a dreary light which dampened any enjoyment I would have had from it.

Finally, let’s talk about the writing. I didn’t like the characters, I didn’t like the storyline, but I’ll be honest. Graham Norton can craft a sentence. It may be a boring sentence, but it’s well-crafted. I think that’s what kept me reading. I didn’t enjoy much about it, but I did appreciate his writing. Is that enough to save the book? Not really, but it did give me a bit more relief than I otherwise would have gotten from reading it.

 Overall, this is a skippable one. But keep your eye on Mr. Norton. If this whole British Talk Show Host thing doesn’t work out, he may just have a future in books.

Rating: Two stars

For the Sensitive Reader: Affairs, sex scenes, rape, murder, foul language. Just stay away.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Lies She Told - Cate Holahan

Summary: Sometimes the truth is darker than fiction.

Liza Jones has thirty days to write the thriller that could put her back on the bestseller list. In the meantime, she’s struggling to start a family with her husband, who is distracted by the disappearance of his best friend, Nick. With stresses weighing down in both her professional and her personal life, Liza escapes into writing her latest heroine.

Beth is a new mother who suspects her husband is cheating on her while she’s home alone providing for their newborn. Angry and betrayed, Beth sets out to catch him in the act and make him pay for shattering the illusion of their perfect life. But before she realizes it, she’s tossing the body of her husband’s mistress into the river.

Then the lines between fiction and reality begin to blur. Nick’s body is dragged from the Hudson and Liza’s husband is arrested for his murder. Before her deadline is up, Liza will have to face up to the truths about the people around her, including herself. If she doesn’t, the end of her heroine’s story could be the end of her own. (Summary and pic from

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

My Review: I always love me a good crime thriller mystery. It’s like my go-to comfort read. I like to mix up my reading—I read a lot of things and a lot of genres. I am not someone who completely writes off one genre, although I do have to say I am not a huge lover of fantasy, especially those cheesy old school ones that are obviously made for people who just want to live out their Dungeon & Dragons fantasies (I’m married to a geek so I can say this not only with authority but also with the knowledge of the truth of it). I’m not amused by someone who just wants to read about dungeon crawlings and such. That being said, of course I recognize The Lord of the Rings, the grandfather of this genre, as one of the best and most influential series ever written. That doesn’t mean that I’ll be reading a lot of fantasy in the coming future. I’m not really a huge sci-fi reader, although I’ll read some of that. I almost never read romance, although I enjoy some good chic lit now and then, which can sometimes be romantic. But no bodice ripper books. I can’t even imagine my embarrassment of people thinking I might engage in reading such a thing. Okay, so the more I write this the more I think I am a little biased. However, I really do read a wide variety of things but I do have my comfort zones. Crime/thriller/mysteries are definitely one of those. They’re fun to read (you know, cause death and murder is fun), a fast read, and they usually take little to no brain power. I don’t try to guess whodunit, I just go along for the ride and enjoy it as it comes.

Lies She Told certainly fit this bill. It was a fun and fast read. It didn’t take me long to read it at all, actually. It also had the added advantage of having the type of voice where I could actually feel like I was in this person’s head. This is always a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it’s fun to be so much of a part of a character that you understand them that much. You feel like you hear their thoughts, their problems are your problems, and it’s easy to be immersed in the story. In this particular novel that was quite disconcerting because obviously with it being a crime/thriller novel there were some things going on that I decidedly don’t want to be a part of in real life. And before you start wondering about me and my hearing the character’s thoughts and all, let’s just clarify that I am nothing really like this character. Our lives are very different in pretty much every way imaginable, but the way that Holahan writes really puts the reader in the main character’s position, which I would say is a bonus.

This isn’t a highly surprising or shocking book with twists and turns. I actually found it predictable in a lot of ways. That doesn’t mean that I didn’t enjoy it. However, I wouldn’t say that when I got to the end I was super surprised or floored by how it all went down. It could be a good introduction to the genre, though, and readers of books like it, such as Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train would probably very much enjoy it. Serious mystery readers will probably be disappointed, though, as the mystery isn’t too mysterious, per se. I can see that it would probably make a compelling movie.

If you’re looking for something light (you know, murder and mayhem light) and easy to read with an interesting plot and accessible characters, this book is for you.

My Rating: 3.5 Stars

For the sensitive reader: This book has some language and mild sexual content, but I would say it is on the lighter side for books of this genre.


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